Soil sampling isn’t just for farmers – Lowndes Signal

by Aisling Fields

With the arrival of spring, home gardeners are getting ready to plant some of their favorite things. Soil sampling is a quick and easy way to make sure plants are getting the nutrients they need.

“Different plants have different fertilizer needs,” said Audrey Gamble, Alabama Cooperative Extension System specialist and assistant professor. “Soil testing ensures plants are getting enough nutrients to optimize growth.”

For plants to thrive, they need the right amounts of phosphorus, potassium, nitrogen, and lime. Soil samples are a great way to know exactly what nutrients are getting to your plants as well as what they are not.

Let it grow

Sometimes the soil is stripped of these elements and fertilizers are used to correct this.

“Having the wrong soil pH or nutrient content can dramatically reduce plant growth,” Gamble said.

It is necessary for home gardeners to check the quality of their soil to ensure that they can grow the best vegetables. This is extremely important in determining how the plants will grow. Good soil quality also allows water to be stored and treated. This will not only help plants grow, but will regulate soil temperatures affecting seed germination and flowering.

How to take a soil sample

Soil acidity and nutrient content can vary greatly across a lawn or garden. So be sure to get samples from different areas to create a uniform soil sample.

“The only tools needed for soil sampling are a bucket and a soil probe,” Gamble said. “While many county extension offices have soil probes that can be borrowed, a garden shovel will also do the trick.”

Using a soil probe or garden spade, take 15 to 20 cores or slices of soil 3 to 4 inches deep for lawns and 6 to 8 inches deep for gardens. Be sure to get about a pint of soil for a good sample. Then mix the sample in a bucket before adding it to the collection box collected from a local extension office or garden centre. Fill out all the information on the box and mail it to the Soil, Forage and Water Testing Lab.

The results of the soil sample will determine if lime is needed as well as the type of fertilizer that will work best for the particular soil, allowing plants to grow to their potential.

“Once you receive your soil sample results, apply fertilizer and lime according to soil test recommendations,” Gamble said.

More information

To learn more about soil testing, visit There are many soil testing resources available, as well as a part of the website called Healthy Soils. If you have any questions about the report, contact your local extension office.

About Charles Holmes

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